With only a month left before the start of the rainy season, the Santa Clara Valley Water District is moving fast on emergency repairs to save what's left of the creek bank along a crumbling stretch of Stevens Creek Trail north of El Camino Real in Mountain View.
The water district is aiming to hire a contractor and get started within the next two weeks on remedial work to prevent rapid soil erosion along the creek bank between El Camino Real and Yuba Drive. Water district CEO Norma Camacho designated the deterioration of the creek bank an "emergency" last month, empowering the district to skip the traditional bidding process in favor of fast action.
The creek trail segment has been out of commission since January, when a wet and windy storm season caused a portion of the creek bank to slough off, causing trees and loose soil to tumble into the creek bed and prompting city staff to close off that length of the trail for safety reasons. Despite the dry summer, erosion unexpectedly went from bad to worse during July and August, causing a 60-foot portion of the paved trail to cave in, according to an Aug. 18 staff memo. The continuing erosion now threatens the city's recently opened trail detour through the adjacent hotel property as well as a nearby row of redwood trees.
Water district staff have yet to decide on a repair method, but are considering what's called soil-nail or soldier pile repairs as a method of stabilizing the soil. The technique could extend into the nearby hotel property, and the hotel's management has tentatively agreed to allow the repair work. The estimated cost of soil-nail repairs is estimated at $745,000, but the true cost will not be known until the project is completed.
Although district staff chose a contractor last week for the project, Hayward Baker Inc., the district had to stop negotiations after the company unexpectedly backed out, according to Ngoc Nguyen, the water district's deputy operating officer for watersheds design and construction. The contractor refused to indemnify the district or Extended Stay Hotel, Nguyen told water district board members Tuesday, forcing staff to revise the scope of work and go back to three potential contractors who earlier expressed interest in the work.
"We are hopeful that we will be able to execute the scope of work for the emergency repair and issue the notice to proceed within two weeks from today," Nguyen said.
Board member Gary Kremen, who represents North County cities including Mountain View, said the decision by Hayward Baker Inc. not to sign the district's standard contract is highly unusual, and he has no idea why the company refused to sign it. And with so little time between now and the rainy season, any delay can spell trouble for the creek.
"My worry is that this will slow things down," Kremen said.
Though the project is designed to stop the bleeding, rather than make permanent repairs that will reconstitute the trail, the remedial work is expected to reduce the costs of permanent repairs to restore the bank, according to the water district staff report. The temporary trail detour through the hotel property, which was opened by the city in June, is likely to be closed during the emergency repair work, according to a district staff report.
The water district received numerous comments from Mountain View city leaders, Google officials and residents of Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale attesting to the importance of the trail as a commute path as well as a recreation facility. Mayor Ken Rosenberg called the trail a "vital recreational and transportation facility" used by thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians every day, giving residents an alternative to the city's roadways.
The trail is an "extremely important" resource, Google's real estate director John Igoe wrote in a letter to the water district last month. He said the transportation corridor acts as an alternative to local streets as well as Highway 85, and the erosion is only going to get worse without some kind of emergency action.
"Without immediate repairs, the levee will likely worsen over the winter, driving up costs and possibly making a permanent repair to the trail extremely expensive and potentially even unfeasible," Igoe wrote. "That would be a tremendous loss, a loss that might be avoidable through swift action."